Lismore City Council has refused to become involved in a dispute between a group of Rosebank neighbours fighting over the building of an upgraded access road through their properties to an expanding macadamia business.
Tuesday night’s decision left one neighbour threatening Council with legal action.
The issue has already been before the Land and Environment Court but, despite mediation and collective costs totalling more than $300,000, remains unresolved.
Andrew Whillas had asked Council to purchase a section of Crown road reserve and then onsell it to him so that he could build an alternative access road to his macadamia farm.
The plan was the second attempt by Mr Whillas to satisfy a DA requirement to upgrade access to his expanded business after his initial plans to upgrade the existing right of way fell foul of a neighbour who said it would negatively affect his property.
Mr Whillas then attempted to buy an alternative ‘paper road’ owned by Crown Lands but the department refused to sell him the final portion owing to objections by other neighbours who were concerned about truck movements close to their homes.
Statements were heard from both sets of neighbours during public access. And both ended up threatening Council if it did not support their position.
In the end, councillors voted to not proceed with the transfer (Cr Schiebl left the chambers for a significant conflict of interest so did not vote; Crs Bennett, Marks and Meineke against) owing to the existing objections from neighbours; further impacts to an additional three landholders if it went ahead; and the significant earthwork costs associated with creating an intersection and safe access.
Although involved in litigation against Mr Whillas, Allan Greet told Council the transfer of ownership would resolve the issue and threatened Council with legal action if it did not support the request.
‘I have spoken with the [Mr Whillas’s] solicitor and if this transfer is not agreed upon tonight we are in open agreement to join forces against the council,’ said Mr Greet.
Cr Vanessa Ekins asked Mr Greet why he was rejecting the DA for the existing right of way through his property instead of backing the road reserve option.
Mr Greet said it was owing ‘to the extensive roadworks that need to be done, as the bottom of the proposed [right of way] is too sharp for a truck turning circle’.
‘We have both had experts come in and give professional advice and the cheapest alternative is for him to purchase the Crown road reserves.’
But John Zaat, who has land that adjoins the final portion of Crown road reserve, objected to the transfer.
Mr Zaat supported Council staff’s recommendation not to transfer ownership and showed the chamber Crown Land documents that he said upheld his objections.
‘Most reasonable people would see the attempt by [Mr Whillas] to ask LCC to transfer ownership would be to subvert this decision,’ said Mr Zaat.
‘In one case the road boundary is about four metres from the main bedroom of an existing house.’
Mr Zaat also threatened Council by saying, ‘objecting landholders would fight tooth and nail to protect their amenity’.
Deputy mayor Neil Marks was unsuccessful in persuading councillors to approve the transfer of ownership as he thought the inaction was ‘setting neighbour upon neighbour’.
‘We could be helping with a solution but we are telling ratepayers to go off and fight this somewhere else and end up in court.’
Cr Simon Clough said, ‘these neighbours have chosen to fight out this issue of their own volition’.
‘If we as Council purchase the paper road, we will be transferring the issue away from those who are directly involved and involving three other parties, so it is not a solution.
‘Let the neighbours sort it out between themselves without making the conflict larger and involving even more landholders.’